Sarah J. Mitchell, Associate Director
My Google+ invitation finally arrived this weekend. In all its viral marketing brilliance, Google is doling out the invitations to join its new, widely hyped, vaguely mysterious social networking site to a few select individuals in the technology world, decided by some unknown algorithm. At this point, you can’t just join Google+. Someone has to invite you. A brilliant buzz-building move, indeed. And who holds that invitation power? Apparently, my sister, a librarian in Austin, Texas, does. (Never mind that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the epicenter of social networking, land of the headquarters of Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. Sometimes you just need your family.) I didn’t log on until today, and now, with about 12 hours of experience under my belt (well, I didn’t spend the whole 12 hours on Google+, my clients and colleagues will be happy to know) I am certainly in no position to give any sort of meaningful review or tips to using the site (you can find that here: http://www.bnet.com/blog/digital-marketing/everything-you-need-to-know-about-google-/248?promo=713&tag=nl.e713.) But I am more than qualified to give you a very long “status update” on my first impressions.
I of course heard about Google+’s Circles before I joined. If you haven’t, here’s a good primer.
Those Circles, I figured, were going to fix the biggest problem I had with Facebook – the clumsy and laborious process of creating different audiences for different messages. I never had to worry about my audience back in the days of Friendster, and then MySpace. Those early social networking sites never caught on to a broader audience, and the 100 or so friends I had were almost all people who knew me in my most casual, weekend sort of way. Clients and colleagues weren’t subjected to pictures of me in bizarre costumes from that weird play I was in, or the off-color joke from my very liberal, artsy friend Sparrow (names have been changed to protect the hippies). I kept my professional connections on LinkedIn, and there they stayed. I figured when I signed up for Facebook that it would be the same situation, and I treated my status updates as such – no holds barred. I clearly underestimated the brains behind Facebook, and over time the site was able to infiltrate the lives of every last person from my hometown, Spring, Texas, to my boss, to my clients, to my dad. Soon I had close to 1,000 “friends”. It was an uncomfortable adjustment as every time I typed a status update I had to wonder… how is this being perceived?
So today I logged on to Google+, giddy as a six year old at her birthday party ready to break open the piñata. The best way I can describe the feeling that came next is exhaustion. Physical and mental exhaustion. Firstly, the idea of filling out an About Me profile sounded about as appealing as re-grouting my bathtub. I like to talk about myself with the best of them, but I think I’m finally burned out. But the About Me ended up being the easy part. All of the contacts I have collected over the years, tucked in my contacts lists in various and sundry email accounts and networking sites were presented there in list form by the friendly geniuses at Google+, waiting for me to sort them into Circles. Easy enough at first… Leslie is a friend, my sister goes in both the friend and family circles, Eleanor goes in the friend and theatre circles, Bob the very nice, smart law firm CFO is a professional contact. Sergey Brin? I think it’s safe to say we aren’t going to be friends anytime soon, so he goes in the Following Circle.… pretty straightforward. Then I got to Jennifer… Is she a friend? Or is she an acquaintance? She’s a the wife of a friend of an ex-boyfriend who I always really liked but now that I’m not in that particular relationship, we’re not really in touch, but I’d like to be, but we’re not all that close right now. Ok, I’ll create a new, customized Circle called “wives of friends of ex-boyfriends who I like very much but maybe it’s presumptuous at this point to call us friends but maybe we will be someday in the future”. I could see pretty soon it was going to get overly complicated really quickly, and maybe start looking like this.
The Circles that I thought would simplify and streamline my social networking experience feel overly complicated. And I’m starting to realize that I learned to love the more inclusive nature of Facebook. Yes, it meant I needed to be more circumspect with my posts, and I had to see one too many baby pictures (that’s not true… I actually love the baby pictures). But the inclusivity led to my making and deepening connections with others that I wouldn’t have otherwise expected. That guy I went to high school with who now lives in Dallas with his wife, two dogs and cat? He would have gone right into the acquaintance Circle, and we would have never ended up bonding with one another over the stupidest cat videos we can find and posting to one another’s walls. And I’ve found that clients actually like getting a window into my acting and theatre life, and it has strengthened those business relationships as they get a more multi-dimensional picture of me, and I of them.
The third issue I found with Google+ is that there simply aren’t very many people using it yet, and it feels awfully lonely. As a friend on Facebook put it, it feels like an exclusive party with better food, music, and lighting, but at the end of the day I just missed all my weird, crazy friends who were still having a good time at that other party. I’m sure I’ll catch on to Google+ eventually, and I will find a way to use the Circles that works for me. I might even come to love it, abandon Facebook, and read this blog post in six months and shake my head at my own naivety. But for now, I’m going to stick to the party where everyone knows my name.